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Rules at Reuters for Modifying Photographs

July 4th, 2007

Drew King sent me this link to an explanation of the rules  now in force at Reuters for the use of  Photoshop.  Obviously, this has no direct link to real estate photography but I though it was interesting to see the photo modification rules in the photo journalism world… Reuters doesn’t even allow in-camera sharpening! For those of you not familiar with the events that led up to this crackdown on photo modification by Reuters see this background article.The indirect relation to real estate photography is that this incident back in August of 2006 got allot press and raised the public awareness of photo modification.

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9 Responses to “Rules at Reuters for Modifying Photographs”

  • In journalism faked up pictures is definately misleading. It is also misleading in RE photos. At least in RE photos it doesn’t lead to death. I doubt there will be a public outcry for misleading RE photos on the scale of journalistic photos.
    It can still happen as it has in some countries already. If enough pictures are misleading, there will be a public outcry that leads to regulation. That is why it is so important to find a code that works between RE photographers. It is much better to write the code than have a code written by people who do not understand the distortions and differences between a camera perspective and a human one.
    The music industry did this. They pre-empted a law by self-policing themselves. They actually ended up with that sticker that helped sales and everyone was happy. Can you imagine what hoops would have to be jumped through to get a music album out if congress had dictated the rules?
    A personal ethics is nice, a general ethics we can all follow is better. Either way if the ethics is looked at as abused, there will be a law RE photographers didn’t write.
    Give the public a minimum standard endored by RE photographers and specified limits to what is acceptable without disclosure for photographers. The photographer will not need to choose what the public should or should not be able to understand. Thats liberating to the photographer. When a photo is doctored beyond what the public could tell, they will know it is documented or within an approximation of expectation. That is liberating to the buyer.

  • I believe there needs to be some ethics in all photography, but it should be implemented by photographers. I spent 12 years as a photojournalist at the Missoulian (the daily paper in Missoula, Mt.) and the photo department as a whole agreed that we would not do anything in photoshop that we didn’t do in the old darkroom. It still works for me.

  • […] Larry Lohrman delves further into real estate photography ethics by looking at the Reuters photography philosophy. […]

  • This is exactly what you get when an idiot that works for government or big business does something really stupid and creates a public “incident”. Beyond firing the guy (if they can), they need to do something that will satisfy the need for “how will we NEVER let this happen again?”. Of course one step is to write or re-write policy. Actually, their new policy seems to have been written by someone who at least understands photography. And of course there is always internal power plays within the organization. If you are ‘big’, you need an entire department that should do photo editing, not the field photographer. I remember the days when I couldn’t do word processing. That was the typing poll’s job.

    Besides the photographer, there were also many steps that must have been circumvented to allow publishing such an obviously contorted photo. I bet the policy for that was also re-written but not so widely published.

    Besides reading about what we as RE photographers should do/not do, I’d like to see more opinions about what the RE agent’s responsibilities are. They hire me to produce a product. They review all my work before publication. They have an RE license, I don’t.’

    Pretend for just a minute the Reuter photographer is a great guy, lots of experience, etc. Pretend he was just “dorking” around (tech term) and happened to hit the button instead of . This could happen to any of us. So what is the step above agent’s responsibility to prevent actual publication?

    How many of us doing RE photography would like to/have to submit our work thru some central office before publication? Some third party virtual tour hosting places will tell you about stitching errors before publication. Take it to the next level?

  • As real estate photographers we are not in the business of selling the house but in driving traffic to a listing. Nobody is going to purchase a home from our photographs alone. Proper due diligence on the part of any buyer will involve them seeing the property in person, inspections, etc.

    Thus, I don’t think it is possible we can harm any buyer no matter what we did to a property photo other than possibly to waste some of his or her time in viewing the listing. Our client, the realtor, is not going to use a photo that he or she feels misrepresents the property to an extent as to offend a potential buyer.

    I think we are going a bit overboard with concern on this topic. I stick to my informal idea that if it couldn’t be possible, I don’t do it. I don’t remove powerlines or close neighbors but I don’t mind at all faking a sky or pumping the saturation on an image, etc. I think that’s my job.

  • I think I generally think I agree with Susanne on this one. I have no delusions that my Big Mac is going to come out looking like the picture in the ad, heck I shoot food, I know better.

    That said I recently posted an image in the forum of a stairwell that had a skylight just above the chandelier and I thought about “fixing” it but then thought about the first round of this post and thought better of it. I could have shot it at night but didn’t have time. So be it.

    In the end our jobs are closer to advertising than to journalism, and while we don’t want to complete a completely false view (that Big Mac in the picture has to be made out of the same materials as the real one that gets sold after all) we do want to make the scene as pleasing as possible for our customers and their customers, that’s our jobs.

  • I know this may be harping on a topic to much but…
    Michael Martins comments ring true, the agent has the license at stake, not the photographer.
    So I pose this.
    If we are professionals… Working with professional agents…
    Isn’t it our obligation to make sure “we” don’t misrepresent the property and agent to the very best of our ability.
    I would think after a few times where “due diligence” proves the agents or photographers photos are causing issues, there would be some negative effect. This is obvious worse case situation.

    At the end of the day I don’t think anyone here (on the blog) is maliciously trying to fake a picture of an estate where a condo should be. I will assume like me, each of you has a style and way you retouch photos for agents and this whole topic serves as more of a metric to keep our creative spirit in check than to suggest anyone here would intentionally commit fraud against a home buyer.

    Thats my view of the topic from the east side of Oz…

  • For those of us who do real estate work (hopefully, the majority of this forum), the end user (perspective buyer) will figure out what is real vs. what is not. I recently shot an exterior/interior of a home in East Sacramento and a agent posted the images on a website and with MLS. A buyer from the Bay Area made an offer based on the pictures I took and was not interested in driving up to see the house. The house sold a few days later.

    Generally, my images are made from a variety of angles and cropped to show the best aspects of the home. I post process to enhance the ability to see the property but very rarely do any serious PS editing.

    Although unsusal, this type of purchase emphasizes the commitment (“truth in photographing”)we have to real estate clients. I agree with Drew King that most (probably all) who belong to this forum would not commit fraud but an moderate to heavily edited image may represent a false impression, followed by an upset potential buyer, then to a lost real estate client.

  • “Objective photojournalism” is an oxymoron. Photography is not and can never be documentation. And Reuters certainly isn’t some non-profit charity group. The Reuters “rules” were a damage control/publicity stunt and I think they are walking on a slippery slope with this. They are essentially creating a company policy that will make it easier for them to pay only for the photos that tell the story they want to tell. Photoshop has become the scape goat of companies like Reuters, who’s profit depends on the perception that photos show the “truth.”

    The “doctoring” of a scene begins long before Photoshop, when the photographer picks up the camera and looks through the viewfinder and chooses focal length, composition, exposure etc…”Hmmm, if I zoom in tight with my telephoto, I can make those dozen Iraqis tearing down Saddam’s statue look like a crowd of hundreds! What a compelling, emotional scene. Maybe then Reuters will buy my photo…”

    As far as real estate photos go: If someone doesn’t like the way I shoot, they don’t have to hire me.

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